Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Autistic Kid

"One, two, three, ONE; one, two three, TWO; one, two three THREE..."

We were supposed to chant aloud as we did our calisthenics, in gym class. If an exercise had four sub-moves to it, we counted like that: rather than saying "four" on the last move we inserted the number of full exercises completed. 

I found this bewildering: in fact, I couldn't do it, and when I tried to do it, I couldn't move my body. So typically when performing these sorts of calisthenics, I slowed, moved spasmodically, and ground to halt. Following the two sequences felt deeply wrong. In what world does "three" follow "three"? What is the relationship between the murmured "three" and the bellowed "three"? The further the count went the more confusing it got: my brain worked desperately to establish a mathematical relationship between the sequences: there really wasn't one. but I couldn't help looking for it. 

From the outside, of course: here was that weird kid slacking off again, not even trying to look like he was doing the exercises. Not paying attention, not willing to to try. I can hardly blame my gym teachers for being exasperated with me. Explaining my internal experience was beyond my capacity, even if they had had time to listen, which they didn't. 

It was the more galling, because I prided myself on my mathematics. Numbers were my friend. I could solve quadratic equations in my head. I was in math classes with these kids: some of them found adding 1/2 and 1/3 insuperable. Yet here they were, chanting enthusiastically, tracking two numeric sequences AND moving their bodies. It was a total mystery. How did they do it? And how was I to fake it?

I faked it by trying to ignore the numbers, moving my mouth randomly, and trying to do what the others were doing. It didn't fool anybody. They may have had trouble with fractions, but my classmates had no trouble distinguishing my awkward counterfeits from their own fluid, well-grounded movements. I was the weird kid, and I always would be. 

I pretended not to care about gym class. I aspired to the position of "absent-minded professor," at school: it was not the same thing as a full-fledged person, but it was a role; it qualified you for a spot on Gilligan's Island. I got by. I was bullied a little, but not too much. I had a way with words and a deep fund of malice -- I might land you with a nickname you'd have trouble getting rid of -- and there were easier targets. 


Long ago, long ago: why bother with it? I've gotten by, sidling through the world, finding dusty corners to live in, like a wary spider in an untidy house. The weird kid had a will, and a brain. He did all right. Burned out spectacularly twice; threw away two promising careers, but he had a nice family; he ended his working days comfortably doing part time data entry and part time massage: and he had time enough to spend on meditation, prayer, history, literature, and philosophy to actually understand some things. To write some essays and poetry. More than most people ever get. Far more than that kid under the florescent lights of the gymnasium, bewildered by the rhythmic bellowing of the neurotypicals, dared to hope for.

Still the mind goes back, and gnaws on things; misspoken words return, the scent of chalk dust and gym ropes. The painfully obviously developmentally disabled kid I should have befriended, and did not. God's going to ask about him, at our debriefing, and I'm not looking forward to that conversation. His name was Martin -- as if he didn't enough troubles already -- and he was even more duck-footed and awkward than I was, even more easily confused. I didn't participate in tormenting him, and that's as much as I can say for myself. You don't have to run faster than the bear.


The physical awkwardness went away completely: I think of myself now as fluid and deft in my movements. Maybe it's just because I'm no longer required to do unfamiliar things at unfamiliar tempos, while receiving a firehose-stream of nonsensical verbiage. Maybe it's some delayed developmental thing. Maybe it was dance class and contact improv in college; maybe it was as late as massage school; maybe it was reading and writing poetry. Anyway I live comfortably in my body now, which has been one of the great, unexpected blessings of adulthood.


In the morning the light gleams on a rectangle of copper foil, as I let my spine extend, and the Copper Buddha appears in a circle of radiance. Sometimes it's the sun blazing through a circle of wet twigs. Sometimes it's neither, but only a feeble, elderly reaching of the mind for things half remembered and half made up. If you push for resolution on these things, all they'll do is collapse and shrivel. You take what you get, gratefully; and when there's nothing offered, you take that gratefully too.


Murr Brewster said...

Marvelous. I still wonder about some of the "weird kids." I'm sure they all would have diagnoses today but not sixty years ago.

My brain might care to gnaw on such things periodically, but usually gets a taste and spits them out, because of my own brain peculiarity: a sort of fluid amnesia. And that is why I have been educated and am no more.

ren powell said...